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Food allergies – are they preventable?

What to consider in the way of cause in the development of food sensitivity

“One man’s food is another man’s poison” is a familiar and centuries old saying which simply states that different people can have very different reactions to exactly the same food…

We are well aware that the health of the gut membrane is dependent upon the balance of good versus bad bacteria. If this is compromised (as we often see), the risk of food sensitivity increases significantly. And if we consider that antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti inflammatories (NSAID’s) have been rampant in circulation as well as the increase in people with food sensitivities.. therein lies a causal link.


While the development of antibiotics has served to lengthen our lifespans, the excessive use to which it has been employed may be causing serious long-term consequences on our health. The mere fact that microorganisms are becoming resistant causing the need for newer and stronger antibiotics to be produced is proof of this inappropriate overuse.

Changes in our microbiota may even be promoting the transmission of deadly organisms, as one of the important roles of an intact microflora is to resist colonization by pathogenic organisms.

Not only does the individual use of antibiotics cause permanent changes in the gut flora, but that infants born to women given antibiotics during pregnancy, or the 30% of children delivered via caesarean section, may be starting life with a significantly altered and insufficient level of friendly gut flora.

One study demonstrated that a short course of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin reduced the diversity of the intestinal microbiota, with significant effects on roughly one-third of the bacterial species. This study also found that while much of the diversity eventually recovered, there were still several species that failed to recover after six months, suggesting that even a short course of antibiotics may cause permanent changes to the community of friendly flora in the gut.


Not only does the individual use of antibiotics cause permanent changes in the gut flora, but that of infants born to women given antibiotics during pregnancy.

Research also indicates that infants’ gut flora is significantly affected by caesarean delivery, which requires the administration of antibiotics to the mother. So we can speculate that the 30% of children delivered via caesarean section may be starting life with a significantly altered and insufficient level of friendly gut flora.

Primary colonization of the newborn’s sterile intestinal tract normally happens during vaginal birth, and it is unknown whether an infant born with inadequate or unbalanced colonization will ever develop normal intestinal flora without intervention.


Long term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories cause adverse side effects such as gastric ulceration and GI bleeding. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID)-induced upper gastrointestinal bleeding is a common cause of hospital admission. The least understood, and more universal adverse effect is NSAID induced damage to the small bowel intestinal brush border, with increased intestinal permeability and “Leaky Gut”.

Administration of NSAIDs in a mouse model causes progressive increase in intestinal permeability, a marked increase in gram-negative bacterial numbers, and frank intestinal ulceration. A literature review showed all studies in agreement that NSAIDs increase intestinal permeability in the human within 24 h of ingestion. Proton pump inhibitor antacid drugs are frequently given with NSAIDS, thinking this will protect the patient, however studies show the opposite effect. PPI drugs actually exacerbate NSAID-induced intestinal damage, accompanied by alterations in intestinal microbial populations.


An unbalanced microbiota in the gut is also a contributing factor in autoimmunity. Infection with certain microbial pathogens can trigger autoimmune reactions in joints and other organs. The destruction of healthy gut flora can make the mucosal lining more susceptible to leakage, which some researchers believe is a precondition for developing autoimmunity. It is well-established that the balance of gut bacteria plays a key role in the formation of a proper immune response. A lack of healthy gut bacteria is associated with allergies, IBD, and general autoimmune reactions when this immune modulation goes awry.

Though antibiotics may be necessary in certain situations, it’s important to weigh the benefits of using them with the potential risks that may come from the permanent alteration of the gut flora. If antibiotics must be used (and there are certainly situations where this is the case), special care should be taken to not only restore their gut flora using probiotic foods and supplements, but to eat a diet that supports healthy gut microbiota with plenty of fermentable fibres from starch and the removal of food toxins.

A case-control study comparing anaphylaxis and mild food allergies has shown a sharp increase of consumption of drugs such as aspirin, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. Predominant mechanisms could be an increase of gut permeability enhancing the passage of food allergens in the mucosa and in blood, and the inhibition of ACE, so that the angiotensin homeostatic mechanism deteriorates. Main sites of interference may be endothelium and gut epithelium.


Vitamin D plays an important role in the regulation of our immune functions. In particular, vitamin D regulates the activity of various immune cells, including monocytes, dendritic cells (DCs), T and B-lymphocytes, as well as immunological functions of epithelial cells.

Epidemiological evidence has shown that childhood food allergies are more common in regions further from the equator, suggesting that vitamin D insufficiency may play a role in food sensitivity development. One study found that infants of

Australian-born parents with vitamin D insufficiency were more likely to be peanut and/or egg allergic than those with parents that had adequate vitamin D levels. These infants were also more likely to have multiple food allergies rather than a single food allergy. These results provide the first direct evidence that vitamin D sufficiency may be an important protective factor for food allergy in the first year of life.


Chronic stress (whether emotional, physical, mental, environmental) activates the release of inflammatory cytokines, as does pathogens such as harmful bacteria conveniently setting the groundwork for chronic disease. In fact, gut bacteria has the ability to alter the way certain mechanisms function. A helpful function of certain preferable sorts of commensal bacteria (Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) keep the numbers of pathogenic bacteria low, and also interact with the immune system in a way to turn off that chronic stress response. The “right” gut bacteria also interact on a hormonal level, helping to turn off the cortisol and adrenaline response that can cause long-term harm to the body.

There is also evidence stress can affect the microbiome. Mice exposed to early parental loss have an immediate reduction in the amount of lactobacilli in the faeces. Some of these microbiota changes are long term, including decreasing some “friendly” bacteria and increasing the relative abundance of pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium.

Taking everything into consideration, there are a number of factors that need to be in balance to achieve optimal health, but the most crucial aspect to highlight is the health of the gut membrane. If the gut is compromised we open ourselves to disease.